Red Sox: Tanner Houck has been far better than what his record reflects

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 24: Tanner Houck #89 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning of a game against the Minnesota Twins at Fenway Park on August 24, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 24: Tanner Houck #89 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning of a game against the Minnesota Twins at Fenway Park on August 24, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Red Sox rookie Tanner Houck has been better than it looks

This season hasn’t gone quite according to plan for Red Sox rookie Tanner Houck. After making his debut in the final month of the 2020 season he came into 2021 as a fan favorite for the starting rotation. A rocky spring training was his first hiccup but he wouldn’t be gone from Boston for very long. If anyone knows that route from Fenway Park to Worcester better than Tanner at this point, I’d like to meet them.

Houck was electric in 2020, posting a 3-0 record through 17 innings of work with a 9.53 ERA. He also carried an 0.882 WHIP, 3.25 FIP, 11.1 K/9, and a 4.8 BB/9. Not bad at all for a guy that has been dubbed the right-handed Chris Sale. His slider was untouchable and the rest of the league couldn’t adapt to what he was putting out, for a lot of his work in 2021, that’s been a similar story.

I’m sure plenty of you are reading this and are ready to tear me apart but hear me out. We have to look beyond the record, which is a factor for pitchers but isn’t as important as many of the other metrics on the stat sheet. Obviously, being 0-3 on the year isn’t pretty to look at but he’s had some serious bad luck this season and while he hasn’t been perfect, he also isn’t to blame for all of it.

To get the train rolling let’s take a look at some base level numbers. The man’s FIP is a 1.95 versus his 3.43 ERA. So he’s getting the damn thing done as far as limiting damage and giving up free passes while striking guys out left and right. Speaking of walks, he’s averaging just 1.8/9 compared to his 11.8/9 K ratio, pretty good if you ask me. He’s controlling the things he can control while limiting the big-time costly mistakes.

Now let’s check out what the opposition is doing that could be causing his outings to not look as good as they should. Houck’s primary weapons are his fastball and his slider, one of those pitches fares better than the other. Per Baseball Savant, opponents are crushing his fastball to the tune of a .304 AVG and .391 SLG, yikes. On the other hand, hitters aren’t touching his slider as it’s currently at a .213 AVG and .277 SLG.

It may come down to pitch mix or simply missing his spots, but the other guys in the dugout are slaughtering his heat while they can’t find his slider. This season, the opposition has a .266/.309/.364/.673 slash but carry a 31.3% K rate. The biggest thing that hurts Tanner on a nightly basis is the weak hits that are given up. He may not hand out a lot of bombs but he’s getting blooped to death.

The Red Sox hurler has a .382 BABIP in 2021 with an average exit velocity of 87.7 MPH, per FanGraphs. So he’s not serving up rockets to hitters but more so dying by 1000 cuts. That’s been the hardest thing to watch in regards to Houck for me this season. He’s executing and is pitching well but he can’t avoid the dinky-do weak hits.

Another issue for Houck this season has been the constant promotion/option rollercoaster between the Red Sox and Worcester. For the most part, he hasn’t actually left the team and it’s been more of a paper move to free up the roster but it still has to mess with his mind. Not having a regular schedule and routine since he’s pretty much a hired gun for spot starts definitely isn’t positive. Luckily, Alex Cora made it official yesterday that he will be a full-time member of the rotation going forward.

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I’d still like to see more from him in games as AC continues to keep a short leash on his rookie starter. Yeah, it wasn’t a pretty night last night as he gave up three earned on eight hits through 4.2 innings, but he still walked just one compared to six strikeouts. At the end of the day, that’s a pretty good start and he did more than enough to give his team a chance to win, which they barely did. I get not wanting him to get too deep in the lineup but we also don’t have a real sample size as to whether or not he can succeed as he sees an order more than twice through.

He’s only crossed the five-inning requirement to qualify for a win twice this season and that has to change. If the Red Sox make it to the postseason they’re going to need him to possibly start or even eat a good chunk of innings, so we need those starts to get stretched a bit more. Getting the reps in and building him up for bigger starts will only benefit the club as his career progresses. Even if it doesn’t pay off for the organization in 2021, it surely will as 2022 kicks off.

Tanner Houck has been pretty good this season despite what his ugly record would make you think. His stats more than back up the confidence that Boston has in him and further prove why he should be with the Red Sox going forward. If he continues to limit the damage and can improve on the few weaknesses he has, he’s going to be a force in this rotation in the future. I’m looking forward to what he does going down the final stretch of the season and in the seasons that follow.

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